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Attack on young girls: Madhya Pradesh tribal women demonstrate, seek 'stern action'

Counterview Desk
Four tribal rights organisations, Adivasi Ekta Parishad, Jay Adivasi Yuva Shakti, Adivasi Chhatra Sangathan and Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS) -- referring to the attack on Madhya Pradesh adivasi women in Badwani, including a pregnant woman and young girls in the name of religion on December 31 -- have regretted that despite one-and-a-half months have passed, no arrests of the perpetrators have taken place.
Demanding action against police for “protecting” goons, says a JADS  note issued on behalf of the four tribal groups, follows a protest rally on February 17 in Badwani. On the afternoon of December 31, 2020, while relatives of Sardar, an Adivasi of Devda village in Thikri block of Barwani district were gathering to prepare for New Year’s eve celebrations, a mob of 20-25 men barged into his home accusing them of religious conversion.
These goons, said the statement, snatched their phones and assaulted family members and relatives gathered, which included women and minor girls. In the attack that followed, a pregnant woman, Lilabai, who was eight months pregnant, fell to the floor and received blows to her stomach. While being transported to the closest hospital, Lilabai went into labour and gave birth to a stillborn son, before reaching the hospital.

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Over a thousand Adivasis women gathered in Barwani (MP) to demand the arrest of of 20-25 men who had barged into an adivasi home falsely accusing them of organizing religious conversion, molested young girls and attacked a pregnant woman who lost her eight month old foetus as a result. The attackers were mainly non-adivasi and upper caste men from nearby villagers.
Asserting that such attacks were a direct assault on all Adivasi women and the whole of Adivasi society, protestors in Barwani today demanded that the accused be arrested under the Atrocities Act and relevant sections of the IPC. They also demanded action against the police for protecting the perpetrators. They said that no religion permits such violence and religion cannot be used as a pretext for atrocities.
On the afternoon of December 31, 2020, while relatives of Sardar, an adivasi of Devda village in Thikri block of Barwani district were gathering to prepare for New Year’s eve celebrations, a mob of 20-25 men barged into his home accusing them of religious conversion. They snatched their phones and assaulted family members and relatives gathered, which included women and minor girls.
According to the family, in the attack that followed, a pregnant woman, Lilabai, who was eight months pregnant fell to the floor and received blows to her stomach. While being transported to the closest hospital, Lilabai went into labour and gave birth to a stillborn son, before reaching the hospital.
Despite receiving death threats against registering a complaint, the family approached the police on the day of the attack. The Thikri police however refused to register an FIR and made the family wait for two days before finally asking the family to write the complaint themselves. No action has been taken to date.
However, despite the attack on the adivasi men and women and the forcible entry and ransnacking of the home by the mob, the loss of Lilabai’s unborn child, no complaint has been registered against the accused Gaurav Sharma, Shriram Rathod, Ravi Khanna, Raja Rathod, Ramesh Rathod, Mangal Patel, Tilak Patel, Arvind Patidar, Rajesh Dhangar, Nilesh Patel, Vishal Koli, Amar Kamble, Gajendra and others.
Lilabai’s older child is severely handicapped, making the loss of the unborn child even more tragic and poignant for her and her family, as the protestors repeatedly pointed out.
Raising slogans of “Leelabai ko Nyay Do!” (Justice for Lilabai!) “Doshi Gundon ko Giraftar karo!” (Arrest the Hooligans!), women from several Adivasi sangathans including Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti, Adivasi Ekta Parishad, Adivasi Chhatra Sangathan, Shehari Mazdoor Sangathan strongly opposed the protection that the mob had been receiving from the government as well as the police. “The police officers were well aware of the law which requires immediate registration of an FIR and other action. They deliberately and repeatedly violated the law. Police should be prosecuted under Section 4 of the Atrocities Act.”
The women demanded that an FIR be registered against the accused under the relevant sections of the IPC and the Prevention of Atrocities Act and said they would hold the administration responsible for the safety of Lilabai and her family, who have been threatened, We will treat an attack on them as an attack the whole of the Adivasi community”, they said.
The women also sharply attacked the state government for liquor related violence and women and blasted it saying “ we don’t have water, but the liquor is freely flowing” and demanded a liquor ban . “This is how they want to keep Adivasi society in slavery. The Shivraj Singh Chauhan government should stop liquor and give us healthcare, education, secure livelihood. We want security and a life of dignity”.
The district police is seeking to justify its inaction saying they are “investigating” the matter. But, it may be noted that the failure to arrest the accused is in blatant violation of the Section 18 (A)(1)(a) of the SC/ST (Prevention of) Atrocities Act which clearly states that “preliminary inquiry shall not be required for registration of an FIR against any person”. By violating the Act, the officials have invited prosecution and section 4 of the act for willful neglect of duties.
Further, the Badwani police is in violation of multiple Supreme Court guidelines which state that the police cannot refuse to register an FIR claiming they have to complete a preliminary investigation or finding the claim not-credible (Lalita Kumari case etc.). In Arumugam Servai v State of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court ruled that “if it is found that they do not promptly apprehend the culprits and others involved and institute criminal proceedings against them” in cases of atrocities, the District Magistrate/Collector and SSP/SPs of the district as well as other officials concerned should be suspended and charge-sheeted and be subject to departmental inquiry.
The women issued a stern warning to the government and administration, declaring that should they fail to take action on those responsible for this atrocity and those involved in its cover up, they would have no-choice but to launch a wider full-fledged agitation for their rights.

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